What is Kabbalah?

Meaning “received,” Kabbalah is the Jewish mystical tradition.

It is the soul and inner dimension of the Torah. Kabbalah is not a humanly conceived theology, rather it is Divine knowledge that has been transmitted by G‑d and received by human beings.

What does Kabbalah talk about?

Kabbalah addresses core issues such as the purpose of creation, how G‑d created the world, the soul’s descent, Divine providence, and the meaning and utility of Torah and Mitzvot.

Who may study Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is part and parcel of the Oral Torah tradition, and it is incumbent upon every Jew to study all areas of Torah according to their ability—including Kabbalah—as mandated in the code of Jewish law.

Does one have to be over 40 to study Kabbalah?

No. In bygone ages there were limitations on who could study Kabbalah. However, these limitations were abolished by great Kabbalists and leaders. Rabbi Isaac Luria, known by the acronym of his name as the Arizal, was a prominent Kabbalist of the 16th century. He proclaimed that in this era it is a Mitzvah to reveal this wisdom, and the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement, revealed that the coming of Mashiach is dependent on its study. Hence, the limitations of bygone generations are no longer applicable, provided that one is guided by an accomplished scholar and experienced teacher.

May a non-Jew study Kabbalah?

A non-Jew is obligated to keep the Seven Noahide Laws which were transmitted to the entire world in the revelation at Sinai. He is obligated to study those laws and comprehend the logical and moral axioms they incorporate. Included in these seven laws are the prohibitions against idolatry and blasphemy. A non-Jew is therefore required to have a solid understanding of the doctrines associated with the unity of G‑d and the basics of monotheistic morality. He may study such texts that explain and enhance his appreciation of the concept of monotheism, and its ramifications in the observance of G‑d’s commandments. This includes the study of Kabbalah, though it must be done under proper guidance.

Should one study Kabbalistic texts even though one does not understand them?

Although there may be a spiritual relevance in reciting passages from the Zohar even though one does not understand them, this is not a priority and one ought to expend the limited time one has to study Torah in a way that one comprehends the text and internalizes its teachings.

Can one study Kabbalah even if non-observant?

Kabbalah is not a religion detached from practicing Judaism. It goes hand in hand with Jewish law (Halachah).

Non-observant Jews are actively encouraged to discover the mystical side of Judaism alongside the pragmatic laws governing day-to-day living. Often, it is through this avenue that their desire for growth is awakened. The “soul” of the Torah illuminates its “body” and both together help rejuvenate one’s Jewishness.

Can one study on one’s own or does one need a teacher? The study of Kabbalah requires great care. Since the Kabbalah addresses matters of spirituality and abstract theology, its ideas can easily be misunderstood, even vulgarized. Some amateur teachers, and worse still, callous opportunists popularize a form of “fast-food Kabbalah,” which most unfortunately misrepresents the teachings of Kabbalah and distorts its ideas. In light of the above one ought to be extremely cautious when approaching the mysteries of creation. Although it may be useful to read introductory books on the subject, ultimately one should study under a qualified teacher.

Who qualifies to be a Kabbalist?

As a prerequisite, a true Kabbalist is fully Torah observant, immersed in Torah study and practice. He must have spent many years of serious study under the guidance of eminent Kabbalists delving into the secrets of the Torah. He must excel in his behavior towards his fellow man, for love of others is the portal to G‑d. A true Kabbalist remains aloof from the vanities of this world and is not motivated by financial gain, honor, or the like.

Are there different schools of Kabbalistic thought?

Yes. Just like a river has numerous tributaries, so too does Kabbalah have numerous schools of thought and varieties in emphasis on approach. In this book we follow the ChaBaD school which has made the inner dimension of the Torah accessible to the average intellect.

Is there a difference between Hassidism and Kabbalah?

Yes. Kabbalah discusses G‑d in a very technical and anatomical way featuring figures, numbers, and diagrams. Hassidism employs the model of human psychology and plumbs the depths of our very own conscious and subconscious selves to extrapolate and help us understand sublime features. In this book we use Kabbalah as a generic term for both Hassidism and Kabbalah.

Why do some mainstream Jewish groups distance themselves from the study of Kabbalah?

Traditionally, one only studied Kabbalah once one had a firm grounding in Scripture, Mishnah, and Talmudic study.

Some therefore oppose teaching Kabbalah to beginners.

However, due to the necessity to awaken a slumbering Jewish spirit and in preparation for the coming of Mashiach, the study of the “inner dimension of the Torah” (Pnimiyut HaTorah) has become an elixir of life. It is a must in contemporary society, even for those who as yet have not mastered Talmudic study. Kabbalistic and Hassidism have definitely penetrated the vast array of Judaica available today.

What about wearing amulets and red strings?

Unfortunately, such practices have been attributed with an inordinate and unhealthy degree of importance. In some situations they have even been unfairly promulgated by some groups for financial gain. Most important is Mitzvah observance – fulfilling the requirements of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch)—in all its detail. According to all schools of Kabbalistic thought, such Mitzvah observance is the surest vessel for G‑d’s blessing and protection.